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The Oakdale Affair by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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"How do you know he ain't?" queried The General.
"Youse was knocked out when these guys picks you up.
It's so dark in here you couldn't reco'nize no one. How do
you know this here bird ain't The Oskaloosa Kid, eh?"

"I have heard both these men speak," replied the
girl; "their voices were not those of any men I have
known. If one of them is The Oskaloosa Kid then there
must be two men called that. Strike a match and you
will see that you are mistaken."

The General fumbled in an inside pocket for a pack-
age of matches carefully wrapped against possible dam-
age by rain. Presently he struck one and held the light
in the direction of The Kid's face while he and the
girl and Dopey Charlie leaned forward to scrutinize the
youth's features.

"It's him all right," said Dopey Charlie.

"You bet it is," seconded The General.

"Why he's only a boy," ejaculated the girl. "The one
who threw me from the machine was a man."

"Well, this one said he was The Oskaloosa Kid," per-
sisted The General.

"An' he shot me up," growled Dopey Charlie.

"It's too bad he didn't kill you," remarked Bridge
pleasantly. "You're a thief and probably a murderer into
the bargain--you tried to kill this boy just before he shot

"Well wots he?" demanded Dopey Charlie. "He's a
thief--he said he was--look in his pockets--they're
crammed wid swag, an' he's a gun-man, too, or he
wouldn't be packin' a gat. I guess he ain't got nothin'
on me."

The darkness hid the scarlet flush which mounted to
the boy's cheeks--so hot that he thought it must surely
glow redly through the night. He waited in dumb misery
for Bridge to demand the proof of his guilt. Earlier in
the evening he had flaunted the evidence of his crime in
the faces of the six hobos; but now he suddenly felt a
great shame that his new found friend should believe
him a house-breaker.

But Bridge did not ask for any substantiation of Char-
lie's charges, he merely warned the two yeggmen that
they would have to leave the boy alone and in the
morning, when the storm had passed and daylight had
lessened the unknown danger which lurked below-stairs,
betake themselves upon their way.

"And while we're here together in this room you two
must sit over near the window," he concluded. "You've
tried to kill the boy once to-night; but you're not going
to try it again--I'm taking care of him now."

"You gotta crust, bo," observed Dopey Charlie, bellig-
erently. "I guess me an' The General'll sit where we
damn please, an' youse can take it from me on the side
that we're goin' to have ours out of The Kid's haul. If
you tink you're goin' to cop the whole cheese you got
another tink comin'."

"You are banking," replied Bridge, "on the well known
fact that I never carry a gun; but you fail to perceive,
owing to the Stygian gloom which surrounds us, that
I have the Kid's automatic in my gun hand and that
the business end of it is carefully aiming in your direc-

"Cheese it," The General advised his companion; and
the two removed themselves to the opposite side of the
apartment, where they whispered, grumblingly, to one

The girl, the boy, and Bridge waited as patiently as
they could for the coming of the dawn, talking of the
events of the night and planning against the future.
Bridge advised the girl to return at once to her father;
but this she resolutely refused to do, admitting with ut-
most candor that she lacked the courage to face her
friends even though her father might still believe in

The youth begged that he might accompany Bridge
upon the road, pleading that his mother was dead and
that he could not return home after his escapade. And
Bridge could not find it in his heart to refuse him, for
the man realized that the boyish waif possessed a sub-
tile attraction, as forceful as it was inexplicable. Not
since he had followed the open road in company with
Billy Byrne had Bridge met one with whom he might
care to 'Pal' before The Kid crossed his path on the
dark and storm swept pike south of Oakdale.

In Byrne, mucker, pugilist, and MAN, Bridge had
found a physical and moral counterpart of himself, for
the slender Bridge was muscled as a Greek god, while
the stocky Byrne, metamorphosed by the fire of a wom-
an's love, possessed all the chivalry of the care free
tramp whose vagabondage had never succeeded in sub-
merging the evidences of his cultural birthright.

In the youth Bridge found an intellectual equal with
the added charm of a physical dependent. The man did
not attempt to fathom the evident appeal of the other's
tacitly acknowledged cowardice; he merely knew that
he would not have had the youth otherwise if he could
not have changed him. Ordinarily he accepted male
cowardice with the resignation of surfeited disgust; but
in the case of The Oskaloosa Kid he realized a certain
artless charm which but tended to strengthen his lik-
ing for the youth, so brazen and unaffected was the
boy's admission of his terror of both the real and the
unreal menaces of this night of horror.

That the girl also was well bred was quite evident
to Bridge, while both the girl and the youth realized the
refinement of the strange companion and protector
which Fate had ordered for them, while they also saw
in one another social counterparts of themselves. Thus,
as the night dragged its slow course, the three came to
trust each other more entirely and to speculate upon the
strange train of circumstances which had brought them
thus remarkably together--the thief, the murderer's ac-
complice, and the vagabond.

It was during a period of thoughtful silence when the
night was darkest just before the dawn and the rain
had settled to a dismal drizzle unrelieved by lightning
or by thunder that the five occupants of the room were
suddenly startled by a strange pattering sound from
the floor below. It was as the questioning fall of a child's
feet upon the uncarpeted boards in the room beneath
them. Frozen to silent rigidity, the five sat straining ev-
ery faculty to catch the minutest sound from the black
void where the dead man lay, and as they listened there
came up to them, mingled with the inexplicable foot-
steps, the hollow reverberation from the dank cellar--
the hideous dragging of the chain behind the nameless
horror which had haunted them through the intermin-
able eons of the ghastly night.

Up, up, up it came toward the first floor. The patter-
ing of the feet ceased. The clanking rose until the five
heard the scraping of the chain against the door frame
at the head of the cellar stairs. They heard it pass across
the floor toward the center of the room and then, loud
and piercing, there rang out against the silence of the
awful night a woman's shriek.

Instantly Bridge leaped to his feet. Without a word
he tore the bed from before the door.

"What are you doing?" cried the girl in a muffled

"I am going down to that woman," said Bridge, and
he drew the bolt, rusty and complaining, from its cor-
roded seat.

"No!" screamed the girl, and seconding her the youth
sprang to his feet and threw his arms about Bridge.

"Please! Please!" he cried. "Oh, please don't leave me."

The girl also ran to the man's side and clutched him
by the sleeve.

"Don't go!" she begged. "Oh, for God's sake, don't
leave us here alone!"

"You heard a woman scream didn't you?" asked
Bridge. "Do you suppose I can stay in up here when a
woman may be facing death a few feet below me?"

For answer the girl but held more tightly to his arm
while the youth slipped to the floor and embraced the
man's knees in a vicelike hold which he could not break
without hurting his detainer.

"Come! Come!" expostulated Bridge. "Let me go."

"Wait!" begged the girl. "Wait until you know that it is
a human voice that screams through this horrible place."

The youth only strained his hold tighter about the
man's legs. Bridge felt a soft cheek pressed to his knee;
and, for some unaccountable reason, the appeal was
stronger than the pleading of the girl. Slowly Bridge re-
alized that he could not leave this defenseless youth
alone even though a dozen women might be menaced
by the uncanny death below. With a firm hand he shot
the bolt. "Leave go of me," he said; "I shan't leave you
unless she calls for help in articulate words."

The boy rose and, trembling, pressed close to the
man who, involuntarily, threw a protecting arm about
the slim figure. The girl, too, drew nearer, while the two
yeggmen rose and stood in rigid silence by the window.
From below came an occasional rattle of the chain, fol-
lowed after a few minutes by the now familiar clanking
as the iron links scraped across the flooring. Mingled
with the sound of the chain there rose to them what
might have been the slow and ponderous footsteps of a
heavy man, dragging painfully across the floor. For a
few moments they heard it, and then all was silent.

For a dozen tense minutes the five listened; but there
was no repetition of any sound from below. Suddenly
the girl breathed a deep sigh, and the spell of terror was
broken. Bridge felt rather than heard the youth sobbing
softly against his breast, while across the room The Gen-
eral gave a quick, nervous laugh which he as immedi-
ately suppressed as though fearful unnecessarily of
calling attention to their presence. The other vagabond
fumbled with his hypodermic needle and the narcotic
which would quickly give his fluttering nerves the quiet
they craved.

Bridge, the boy, and the girl shivered together in their
soggy clothing upon the edge of the bed, feeling now in
the cold dawn the chill discomfort of which the excite-
ment of the earlier hours of the night had rendered them
unconscious. The youth coughed.

"You've caught cold," said Bridge, his tone almost self-
reproachful, as though he were entirely responsible for
the boy's condition. "We're a nice aggregation of molly-
coddles--five of us sitting half frozen up here with a
stove on the floor below, and just because we heard a
noise which we couldn't explain and hadn't the nerve to
investigate." He rose. "I'm going down, rustle some wood
and build a fire in that stove--you two kids have got to
dry those clothes of yours and get warmed up or we'll
have a couple of hospital cases on our hands."

Once again rose a chorus of pleas and objections. Oh,
wouldn't he wait until daylight? See! the dawn was
even then commencing to break. They didn't dare go
down and they begged him not to leave them up there

At this Dopey Charlie spoke up. The 'hop' had com-
menced to assert its dominion over his shattered nervous
system instilling within him a new courage and a feel-
ing of utter well-being. "Go on down," said he to Bridge.
"The General an' I'll look after the kids--won't we bo?"

"Sure," assented The General; "we'll take care of 'em."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Bridge; "we'll leave
the kids up here and we three'll go down. They won't
go, and I wouldn't leave them up here with you two
morons on a bet."

The General and Dopey Charlie didn't know what
a moron was but they felt quite certain from Bridge's
tone of voice that a moron was not a nice thing, and
anyway no one could have bribed them to descend into
the darkness of the lower floor with the dead man and
the grisly THING that prowled through the haunted
chambers; so they flatly refused to budge an inch.

Bridge saw in the gradually lighting sky the near ap-
proach of full daylight; so he contented himself with
making the girl and the youth walk briskly to and fro
in the hope that stimulated circulation might at least par-
tially overcome the menace of the damp clothing and
the chill air, and thus they occupied the remaining hour
of the night.

From below came no repetition of the inexplicable
noises of that night of terror and at last, with every ob-
ject plainly discernible in the light of the new day,
Bridge would delay no longer; but voiced his final de-
termination to descend and make a fire in the old kitchen
stove. Both the boy and the girl insisted upon accom-
panying him. For the first time each had an opportunity
to study the features of his companions of the night.
Bridge found in the girl and the youth two dark eyed,
good-looking young people. In the girl's face was, per-
haps, just a trace of weakness; but it was not the face
of one who consorts habitually with criminals. The man
appraised her as a pretty, small-town girl who had been
led into a temporary escapade by the monotony of
village life, and be would have staked his soul that she
was not a bad girl.

The boy, too, looked anything other than the role he
had been playing. Bridge smiled as he looked at the
clear eyes, the oval face, and the fine, sensitive mouth
and thought of the youth's claim to the crime battered
sobriquet of The Oskaloosa Kid. The man wondered if
the mystery of the clanking chain would prove as harm-
lessly infantile as these two whom some accident of hi-
larious fate had cast in the roles of debauchery and

Aloud, he said: "I'll go first, and if the spook ma-
terializes you two can beat it back into the room." And
to the two tramps: "Come on, boes, we'll all take a look
at the lower floor together, and then we'll get a good fire
going in the kitchen and warm up a bit."

Down the hall they went, Bridge leading with the
boy and girl close at his heels while the two yeggs
brought up the rear. Their footsteps echoed through the
deserted house; but brought forth no answering clank-
ing from the cellar. The stairs creaked beneath the
unaccustomed weight of so many bodies as they de-
scended toward the lower floor. Near the bottom Bridge
came to a questioning halt. The front room lay entirely
within his range of vision, and as his eyes swept it he
gave voice to a short exclamation of surprise.

The youth and the girl, shivering with cold and ner-
vous excitement, craned their necks above the man's

"O-h-h!" gasped The Oskaloosa Kid. "He's gone," and,
sure enough, the dead man had vanished.

Bridge stepped quickly down the remaining steps,
entered the rear room which had served as dining room
and kitchen, inspected the two small bedrooms off this
room, and the summer kitchen beyond. All were empty;
then he turned and re-entering the front room bent his
steps toward the cellar stairs. At the foot of the stair-
way leading to the second floor lay the flash lamp that
the boy had dropped the night before. Bridge stooped,
picked it up and examined it. It was uninjured and with
it in his hand he continued toward the cellar door.

"Where are you going?" asked The Oskaloosa Kid.

"I'm going to solve the mystery of that infernal clank-
ing," he replied.

"You are not going down into that dark cellar!" It was
an appeal, a question, and a command; and it quivered
gaspingly upon the verge of hysteria.

Bridge turned and looked into the youth's face. The
man did not like cowardice and his eyes were stern as
he turned them on the lad from whom during the few
hours of their acquaintance he had received so many
evidences of cowardice; but as the clear brown eyes of
the boy met his the man's softened and he shook his
head perplexedly. What was there about this slender
stripling which so disarmed criticism?

"Yes," he replied, "I am going down. I doubt if I
shall find anything there; but if I do it is better to come
upon it when I am looking for it than to have it come
upon us when we are not expecting it. If there is to be
any hunting I prefer to be hunter rather than hunted."

He wheeled and placed a foot upon the cellar stairs.
The youth followed him.

"What are you going to do?" asked the man.

"I am going with you," said the boy. "You think I am
a coward because I am afraid; but there is a vast differ-
ence between cowardice and fear."

The man made no reply as he resumed the descent of
the stairs, flashing the rays of the lamp ahead of him;
but he pondered the boy's words and smiled as he ad-
mitted mentally that it undoubtedly took more courage
to do a thing in the face of fear than to do it if fear were
absent. He felt a strange elation that this youth should
choose voluntarily to share his danger with him, for in
his roaming life Bridge had known few associates for
whom he cared.

The beams of the little electric lamp, moving from
side to side, revealed a small cellar littered with refuse
and festooned with cob-webs. At one side tottered the
remains of a series of wooden racks upon which pans of
milk had doubtless stood to cool in a long gone, happier
day. Some of the uprights had rotted away so that a
part of the frail structure had collapsed to the earthen
floor. A table with one leg missing and a crippled chair
constituted the balance of the contents of the cellar
and there was no living creature and no chain nor any
other visible evidence of the presence which had
clanked so lugubriously out of the dark depths during
the vanished night. The boy breathed a heartfelt sigh of
relief and Bridge laughed, not without a note of relief

"You see there is nothing," he said--"nothing except
some firewood which we can use to advantage. I regret
that James is not here to attend me; but since he is not
you and I will have to carry some of this stuff upstairs,"
and together they returned to the floor above, their
arms laden with pieces of the dilapidated milk rack. The
girl was awaiting them at the head of the stairs while the
two tramps whispered together at the opposite side of
the room.

It took Bridge but a moment to have a roaring fire
started in the old stove in the kitchen, and as the warmth
rolled in comforting waves about them the five felt for
the first time in hours something akin to relief and well
being. With the physical relaxation which the heat in-
duced came a like relaxation of their tongues and tem-
porary forgetfulness of their antagonisms and individual
apprehensions. Bridge was the only member of the
group whose conscience was entirely free. He was not
'wanted' anywhere, he bad no unexpiated crimes to
harry his mind, and with the responsibilities of the night
removed he fell naturally into his old, carefree manner.
He hazarded foolish explanations of the uncanny noises
of the night and suggested various theories to account
for the presence and the mysterious disappearance of the
dead man.

The General, on the contrary, seriously maintained
that the weird sounds had emanated from the ghost of
the murdered man who was, unquestionably, none other
than the long dead Squibb returned to haunt his former
home, and that the scream had sprung from the ghostly
lungs of his slain wife or daughter.

"I wouldn't spend anudder night in this dump," he
concluded, "for both them pockets full of swag The
Oskaloosa Kid's packin' around."

Immediately all eyes turned upon the flushing youth.
The girl and Bridge could not prevent their own gazes
from wandering to the bulging coat pockets, the owner
of which moved uneasily, at last shooting a look of defi-
ance, not unmixed with pleading, at Bridge.

"He's a bad one," interjected Dopey Charlie, a glint
of cunning in his ordinarily glassy eyes. "He flashes a
couple o' mitsful of sparklers, chesty-like, and allows as
how he's a regular burglar. Then he pulls a gun on me,
as wasn't doin' nothin' to him, and 'most croaks me. It's
even money that if anyone's been croaked in Oakdale
last night they won't have to look far for the guy that
done it. Least-wise they won't have to look far if he
doesn't come across," and Dopey Charlie looked mean-
ingly and steadily at the side pockets of The Oskaloosa

"I think," said Bridge, after a moment of general si-
lence, "that you two crooks had better beat it. Do you
get me?" and he looked from Dopey Charlie to The Gen-
eral and back again.

"We don't go," said Dopey Charlie, belligerently, "un-
til we gets half the Kid's swag."

"You go now," said Bridge, "without anybody's swag,"
and he drew the boy's automatic from his side pocket.
"You go now and you go quick--beat it!"

The two rose and shuffled toward the door. "We'll get
you, you colledge Lizzy," threatened Dopey Charlie,
"an' we'll get that phoney punk, too."

"'And speed the parting guest,'" quoted Bridge, firing
a shot that splintered the floor at the crook's feet.
When the two hoboes had departed the others huddled
again close to the stove until Bridge suggested that he
and The Oskaloosa Kid retire to another room while the
girl removed and dried her clothing; but she insisted
that it was not wet enough to matter since she had been
covered by a robe in the automobile until just a moment
before she had been hurled out.

"Then, after you are warmed up," said Bridge, "you
can step into this other room while the kid and I strip
and dry our things, for there's no question but that we
are wet enough."

At the suggestion the kid started for the door. "Oh,
no," he insisted; "it isn't worth while. I am almost dry
now, and as soon as we get out on the road I'll be all
right. I--I--I like wet clothes," he ended, lamely.

Bridge looked at him questioningly; but did not urge
the matter. "Very well," he said; "you probably know
what you like; but as for me, I'm going to pull off every
rag and get good and dry."

The girl had already quitted the room and now The
Kid turned and followed her. Bridge shook his head.
"I'll bet the little beggar never was away from his
mother before in his life," he mused; "why the mere
thought of undressing in front of a strange man made
him turn red--and posing as The Oskaloosa Kid! Bless
my soul; but he's a humorist--a regular, natural born

Bridge found that his clothing had dried to some ex-
tent during the night; so, after a brisk rub, he put on
the warmed garments and though some were still a trifle
damp he felt infinitely more comfortable than he had for
many hours.

Outside the house he came upon the girl and the
youth standing in the sunshine of a bright, new day.
They were talking together in a most animated man-
ner, and as he approached wondering what the two had
found of so great common interest he discovered that
the discussion hinged upon the relative merits of ham
and bacon as a breakfast dish.

"Oh, my heart it is just achin'," quoted Bridge,

"For a little bite of bacon,

"A hunk of bread, a little mug of brew;

"I'm tired of seein' scenery,

"Just lead me to a beanery

"Where there's something more than only air to


The two looked up, smiling. "You're a funny kind of
tramp, to be quoting poetry," said The Oskaloosa Kid,
"even if it is Knibbs'."

"Almost as funny," replied Bridge, "as a burglar who
recognizes Knibbs when he hears him."

The Oskaloosa Kid flushed. "He wrote for us of the
open road," he replied quickly. "I don't know of any
other class of men who should enjoy him more."

"Or any other class that is less familiar with him," re-
torted Bridge; "but the burning question just now is
pots, not poetry--flesh pots. I'm hungry. I could eat a

The girl pointed to an adjacent field. "Help yourself,"
she said.

"That happens to be a bull," said Bridge. "I was
particular to mention cow, which, in this instance, is
proverbially less dangerous than the male, and much
better eating.

"'We kept a-rambling all the time. I rustled grub, he
rustled rhyme--

"'Blind baggage, hoof it, ride or climb--we always
put it through.' Who's going to rustle the grub?"

The girl looked at The Oskaloosa Kid. "You don't
seem like a tramp at all, to talk to," she said; "but I
suppose you are used to asking for food. I couldn't do it
--I should die if I had to."

The Oskaloosa Kid looked uncomfortable. "So should
--" he commenced, and then suddenly subsided. "Of
course I'd just as soon," he said. "You two stay here--I'll
be back in a minute."

They watched him as be walked down to the road
and until he disappeared over the crest of the hill a
short distance from the Squibbs' house.

"I like him," said the girl, turning toward Bridge.

"So do I," replied the man.

"There must be some good in him," she continued,
"even if he is such a desperate character; but I know
he's not The Oskaloosa Kid. Do you really suppose he
robbed a house last night and then tried to kill that
Dopey person?"

Bridge shook his head. "I don't know," he said; "but
I am inclined to believe that he is more imaginative
than criminal. He certainly shot up the Dopey person;
but I doubt if he ever robbed a house."

While they waited, The Oskaloosa Kid trudged along
the muddy road to the nearest farm house. which lay a
full mile beyond the Squibbs' home. As he approached
the door a lank, sallow man confronted him with a sus-
picious eye.

"Good morning," greeted The Oskaloosa Kid.

The man grunted.

"I want to get something to eat," explained the youth.

If the boy had hurled a dynamite bomb at him the
result could have been no more surprising. The lank,
sallow man went up into the air, figuratively. He went
up a mile or more, and on the way down he reached his
hand inside the kitchen door and brought it forth en-
veloping the barrel of a shot gun.

"Durn ye!" he cried. "I'll lam ye! Get offen here. I
knows ye. Yer one o' that gang o' bums that come here
last night, an' now you got the gall to come back beggin'
for food, eh? I'll lam ye!" and he raised the gun to his

The Oskaloosa Kid quailed but he held his ground.
"I wasn't here last night," he cried, "and I'm not begging
for food--I want to buy some. I've got plenty of money,"
in proof of which assertion he dug into a side pocket
and brought forth a large roll of bills. The man lowered
his gun.

"Wy didn't ye say so in the first place then?" he
growled. "How'd I know you wanted to buy it, eh?
Where'd ye come from anyhow, this early in the morn-
in'? What's yer name, eh? What's yer business, that's
what Jeb Case'd like to know, eh?" He snapped his
words out with the rapidity of a machine gun, nor
waited for a reply to one query before launching the
next. "What do ye want to buy, eh? How much money
ye got? Looks suspicious. That's a sight o' money yew got
there, eh? Where'dje get it?"

"It's mine," said The Oskaloosa Kid, "and I want to
buy some eggs and milk and ham and bacon and flour
and onions and sugar and cream and strawberries and
tea and coffee and a frying pan and a little oil stove,
if you have one to spare, and--"

Jeb Case's jaw dropped and his eyes widened. "You're
in the wrong pasture, bub," he remarked feelingly.
"What yer lookin' fer is Sears, Roebuck & Company."

The Oskaloosa Kid flushed up to the tips of his ears.
"But can't you sell me something?" he begged.

"I might let ye have some milk an' eggs an' butter an'
a leetle bacon an' mebby my ol' woman's got a loaf left
from her last bakin'; but we ain't been figgerin' on sup-
plyin' grub fer the United States army ef that's what yew
be buyin' fer."

A frowsy, rat-faced woman and a gawky youth of four-
teen stuck their heads out the doorway at either side of
the man. "I ain't got nothin' to sell," snapped the woman;
but as she spoke her eyes fell upon the fat bank roll in
the youth's hand. "Or, leastwise," she amended, "I ain't
got much more'n we need an' the price o' stuff's gone
up so lately that I'll hev to ask ye more'n I would of
last fall. 'Bout what did ye figger on wantin'?"

"Anything you can spare," said the youth. "There are
three of us and we're awful hungry."

"Where yew stoppin'?" asked the woman.

"We're at the old Squibbs' place," replied The Kid.
"We got caught by the storm last night and had to put
up there."

"The Squibbs' place!" ejaculated the woman. "Yew
didn't stop there over night?"

"Yes we did," replied the youth.

"See anything funny?" asked Mrs. Case.

"We didn't SEE anything," replied The Oskaloosa Kid;
"but we heard things. At least we didn't see what we
heard; but we saw a dead man on the floor when we
went in and this morning he was gone."

The Cases shuddered. "A dead man!" ejaculated Jeb
Case. "Yew seen him?"

The Kid nodded.

"I never tuk much stock in them stories," said Jeb,
with a shake of his head; "but ef you SEEN it! Gosh! Thet
beats me. Come on M'randy, les see what we got to
spare," and he turned into the kitchen with his wife.

The lanky boy stepped, out and planting himself in
front of The Oskaloosa Kid proceeded to stare at him.
"Yew seen it?" be asked in awestruck tone.

"Yes," said the Kid in a low voice, and bending close
toward the other; "it had bloody froth on its lips!"

The Case boy shrank back. "An' what did yew hear?"
he asked, a glutton for thrills.

"Something that dragged a chain behind it and came
up out of the cellar and tried to get in our room on the
second floor," explained the youth. "It almost got us,
too," he added, "and it did it all night."

"Whew," whistled the Case boy. "Gosh!" Then he
scratched his head and looked admiringly at the youth.
"What mought yer name be?" he asked.

"I'm The Oskaloosa Kid," replied the youth, unable to
resist the admiration of the other's fond gaze. "Look
here!" and he fished a handful of jewelry from one of
his side pockets; "this is some of the swag I stole last
night when I robbed a house."

Case Jr., opened his mouth and eyes so wide that
there was little left of his face. "But that's nothing,"
bragged The Kid. "I shot a man, too."

"Last night?" whispered the boy.

"Yep," replied the bad man, tersely.

"Gosh!" said the young Mr. Case, but there was that
in his facial expression which brought to The Oskaloosa
Kid a sudden regret that he had thus rashly confided in
a stranger.

"Say," said The Kid, after a moment's strained silence.
"Don't tell anyone, will you? If you'll promise I'll give
you a dollar," and he hunted through his roll of bills for
one of that lowly denomination.

"All right," agreed the Case boy. "I won't say a word
--where's the dollar?"

The youth drew a bill from his roll and handed it to
the other. "If you tell," he whispered, and he bent close
toward the other's ear and spoke in a menacing tone;
"If you tell, I'll kill you!"

"Gosh!" said Willie Case.

At this moment Case pere and mere emerged from
the kitchen loaded with provender. "Here's enough an'
more'n enough, I reckon," said Jeb Case. "We got eggs,
butter, bread, bacon, milk, an' a mite o' garden sass."

"But we ain't goin' to charge you nothin' fer the gar-
den sass," interjected Mrs. Case.

"That's awfully nice of you," replied The Kid. "How
much do I owe you for the rest of it?"

"Oh," said Jeb Case, rubbing his chin, eyeing the big
roll of bills and wondering just the limit he might
raise to, "I reckon 'bout four dollars an' six bits."

The Oskaloosa Kid peeled a five dollar bill from his
roll and proffered it to the farmer. "I'm ever so much
obliged," he said, "and you needn't mind about any
change. I thank you so much." With which he took the
several packages and pails and turned toward the road.

"Yew gotta return them pails!" shouted Mrs. Case af-
ter him.

"Oh, of course," replied The Kid.

"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Case, feelingly. "I wisht I'd
asked six bits more--I mought jest as well o' got it as not.
Gosh, eh?"

"Gosh!" murmured Willie Case, fervently.

Back down the sticky road plodded The Oskaloosa
Kid, his arms heavy and his heart light, for, was he not
'bringing home the bacon,' literally as well as figuratively.
As he entered the Squibbs' gateway he saw the girl and
Bridge standing upon the verandah waiting his coming,
and as he approached them and they caught a nearer
view of his great burden of provisions they hailed him
with loud acclaim.

"Some artist!" cried the man. "And to think that I
doubted your ability to make a successful touch! For-
give me! You are the ne plus ultra, non est cumquidibus,
in hoc signo vinces, only and original kind of hand-out

"How in the world did you do it?" asked the girl,

"Oh, it's easy when you know how," replied The Oska-
loosa Kid carelessly, as, with the help of the others, he
carried the fruits of his expedition into the kitchen. Here
Bridge busied himself about the stove, adding more
wood to the fire and scrubbing a portion of the top plate
as clean as he could get it with such crude means as he
could discover about the place.

The youth he sent to the nearby brook for water after
selecting the least dirty of the several empty tin cans
lying about the floor of the summer kitchen. He warned
against the use of the water from the old well and while
the boy was away cut a generous portion of the bacon
into long, thin strips.

Shortly after, the water coming to the boil, Bridge
lowered three eggs into it, glanced at his watch, greased
one of the new cleaned stove lids with a piece of bacon
rind and laid out as many strips of bacon as the lid
would accommodate. Instantly the room was filled with
the delicious odor of frying bacon.

"M-m-m-m!" gloated The Oskaloosa Kid. "I wish I
had bo--asked for more. My! but I never smelled any-
thing so good as that in all my life. Are you going to
boil only three eggs? I could eat a dozen."

"The can'll only hold three at a time," explained
Bridge. "We'll have some more boiling while we are
eating these." He borrowed his knife from the girl, who
was slicing and buttering bread with it, and turned the
bacon swiftly and deftly with the point, then he glanced
at his watch. "The three minutes are up," he announced
and, with a couple of small, flat sticks saved for the pur-
pose from the kindling wood, withdrew the eggs one
at a time from the can.

"But we have no cups!' exclaimed The Oskaloosa Kid,
in sudden despair.

Bridge laughed. "Knock an end off your egg and the
shell will answer in place of a cup. Got a knife?"

The Kid didn't. Bridge eyed him quizzically. "You
must have done most of your burgling near home," he

"I'm not a burglar!" cried the youth indignantly. Some-
how it was very different when this nice voiced man
called him a burglar from bragging of the fact himself
to such as The Sky Pilot's villainous company, or the
awestruck, open-mouthed Willie Case whose very ex-
pression invited heroics.

Bridge made no reply, but his eyes wandered to the
right hand side pocket of the boy's coat. Instantly the
latter glanced guiltily downward to flush redly at the
sight of several inches of pearl necklace protruding ac-
cusingly therefrom. The girl, a silent witness of the oc-
currence, was brought suddenly and painfully to a
realization of her present position and recollection of
the happenings of the preceding night. For the time she
had forgotten that she was alone in the company of a
tramp and a burglar--how much worse either might be
she could only guess.

The breakfast, commenced so auspiciously, continued
in gloomy silence. At least the girl and The Oskaloosa
Kid were silent and gloom steeped. Bridge was thought-
ful but far from morose. His spirits were unquenchable.

"I am afraid," he said, "that I shall have to replace
James. His defection is unforgivable, and he has mis-
placed the finger-bowls."

The youth and the girl forced wan smiles; but neither
spoke. Bridge drew a pouch of tobacco and some papers
from an inside pocket.

"'I had the makings and I smoked

"'And wondered over different things,

"'Thinkin' as how this old world joked

"'In callin' only some men kings

"'While I sat there a-blowin' rings.'"

He paused to kindle a sliver of wood at the stove.
"In these parlous times," he spoke as though to himself,
"one must economize. They are taking a quarter of an
ounce out of each five cents worth of chewing, I am told;
so doubtless each box must be five or six matches short
of full count. Even these papers seem thinner than of
yore and they will only sell one book to a customer at
that. Indeed Sherman was right."

The youth and the girl remained occupied with their
own thoughts, and after a moment's silence the vaga-
bond resumed:

"'Me? I was king of anywhere,

"'Peggin' away at nothing, hard.

"'Havin' no pet, particular care;

"'Havin' no trouble, or no pard;

"'"Just me," filled up my callin' card.'
"Say, do you know I've learned to love this Knibbs per-
son. I used to think of him as a poor attic prune grind-
ing away in his New York sky parlor, writing his verse
of the things he longed for but had never known; until,
one day, I met a fellow between Victorville and Cajon
pass who knew His Knibbs, and come to find out this
Knibbs is a regular fellow. His attic covers all God's coun-
try that is out of doors and he knows the road from La
Bajada hill to Barstow a darned sight better than he
knows Broadway."

There was no answering sympathy awakened in either
of his listeners--they remained mute. Bridge rose and
stretched. He picked up his knife, wiped off the blade,
closed it and slipped it into a trousers' pocket. Then he
walked toward the door. At the threshold he paused
and turned. "'Good-bye girls! I'm through,'" he quoted
and passed out into the sunlight.

Instantly the two within were on their feet and follow-
ing him.

"Where are you going?" cried The Oskaloosa Kid.
"You're not going to leave us, are you?"

"Oh, please don't!" pleaded the girl.

"I don't know," said Bridge, solemnly, "whether I'm
safe in remaining in your society or not. This Oskaloosa
Kid is a bad proposition; and as for you, young lady, I
rather imagine that the town constable is looking for you
right now."

The girl winced. "Please don't," she begged. "I haven't
done anything wicked, honestly! But I want to get away
so that they can't question me. I was in the car when
they killed him; but I had nothing to do with it. It is
just because of my father that I don't want them to find
me. It would break his heart."

As the three stood back of the Squibbs' summer
kitchen Fate, in the guise of a rural free delivery carrier
and a Ford, passed by the front gate. A mile beyond he
stopped at the Case mail box where Jeb and his son
Willie were, as usual, waiting his coming, for the rural
free delivery man often carries more news than is con-
tained in his mail sacks.

"Mornin' Jeb," he called, as he swerved his light car
from the road and drew up in front of the Case gate.

"Mornin', Jim!" returned Mr. Case. "Nice rain we had
last night. What's the news?"

"Plenty! Plenty!" exclaimed the carrier. "Lived here
nigh onto forty year, man an' boy, an' never seen such
work before in all my life."

"How's that?" questioned the farmer, scenting some-
thing interesting.

"Ol' man Baggs's murdered last night," announced the
carrier, watching eagerly for the effect of his announce-

"Gosh!" gasped Willie Case. "Was he shot?" It was
almost a scream.

"I dunno," replied Jim. "He's up to the horspital now,
an' the doc says he haint one chance in a thousand."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Mr. Case.

"But thet ain't all," continued Jim. "Reggie Paynter
was murdered last night, too; right on the pike south of
town. They threw his corpse outen a ottymobile."

"By gol!" cried Jeb Case; "I hearn them devils go by
last night 'bout midnight er after. 'T woke me up. They
must o' ben goin' sixty mile an hour. Er say," he stopped
to scratch his head. "Mebby it was tramps. They must a
ben a score on 'em round here yesterday and las' night
an' agin this mornin'. I never seed so dum many bums
in my life."

"An' thet ain't all," went on the carrier, ignoring the
others comments. "Oakdale's all tore up. Abbie Prim's
disappeared and Jonas Prim's house was robbed jest
about the same time Ol' man Baggs 'uz murdered, er
most murdered--chances is he's dead by this time any-
how. Doc said he hadn't no chance."

"Gosh!" It was a pater-filius duet.

"But thet ain't all," gloated Jim. "Two of the persons in
the car with Reggie Paynter were recognized, an' who
do you think one of 'em was, eh? Why one of 'em was
Abbie Prim an' tother was a slick crook from Toledo er
Noo York that's called The Oskaloosie Kid. By gum, I'll
bet they get 'em in no time. Why already Jonas Prim's
got a regular dee-dectiff down from Chicago, an' the
board o' select-men's offered a re-ward o' fifty dollars fer
the arrest an' conviction of the perpetrators of these
dastardly crimes!"

"Gosh!" cried Willie Case. "I know--"; but then he
paused. If he told all he knew he saw plainly that either
the carrier or his father would profit by it and collect the
reward. Fifty dollars!! Willie gasped.

"Well," said Jim, "I gotta be on my way. Here's the
Tribune--there ain't nothin' more fer ye. So long! Gid-
dap!" and he was gone.

"I don' see why he don't carry a whip," mused Jeb
Case. "A-gidappin' to that there tin lizzie," he muttered
disgustedly, "jes' like it was as good as a hoss. But I
mind the time, the fust day he got the dinged thing, he
gets out an' tries to lead it by Lem Smith's threshin' ma-

Jeb Case preferred an audience worthy his mettle;
but Willie was better than no one, yet when he turned
to note the effect of his remarks on his son, Willie was
no where to be seen. If Jeb had but known it his
young hopeless was already in the loft of the hay barn
deep in a small, red-covered book entitled: "HOW TO

Bridge, who had had no intention of deserting his help-
less companions, appeared at last to yield reluctantly to
their pleas. That indefinable something about the youth
which appealed strongly to the protective instinct in the
man, also assured him that the other's mask of criminal-
ity was for the most part assumed even though the stor-
ies of the two yeggmen and the loot bulging pockets
argued to the contrary. There was the chance, however,
that the boy had really taken the first step upon the
road toward a criminal career, and if such were the case
Bridge felt morally obligated to protect his new found
friend from arrest, secure in the reflection that his own
precept and example would do more to lead him back
into the path of rectitude than would any police magis-
trate or penal institute.

For the girl he felt a deep pity. In the past he had
had knowledge of more than one other small-town girl
led into wrong doing through the deadly monotony and
flagrant hypocrisy of her environment. Himself highly
imaginative and keenly sensitive, he realized with what
depth of horror the girl anticipated a return to her home
and friends after the childish escapade which had cul-
minated, even through no fault of hers, in criminal
tragedy of the most sordid sort.

As the three held a council of war at the rear of the
deserted house they were startled by the loud squeaking
of brake bands on the road in front. Bridge ran quickly
into the kitchen and through to the front room where he
saw three men alighting from a large touring car which
had drawn up before the sagging gate. As the foremost
man, big and broad shouldered, raised his eyes to the
building Bridge smothered an exclamation of surprise
and chagrin, nor did he linger to inspect the other mem-
bers of the party; but turned and ran quickly back to his

"We've got to beat it!" he whispered; "they've brought
Burton himself down here."

"Who's Burton?" demanded the youth.

"He's the best operative west of New York City,"
replied Bridge, as he moved rapidly toward an out-
house directly in rear of the main building.

Once behind the small, dilapidated structure which
had once probably housed farm implements, Bridge
paused and looked about. "They'll search here," he
prophesied, and then; "Those woods look good to me."

The Squibbs' woods, growing rank in the damp ravine
at the bottom of the little valley, ran to within a hun-
dred feet of the out-building. Dense undergrowth
choked the ground to a height of eight or ten feet
around the boles of the close set trees. If they could
gain the seclusion of that tangled jungle there was little
likelihood of their being discovered, provided they were
not seen as they passed across the open space between
their hiding place and the wood.

"We'd better make a break for it," advised Bridge, and
a moment later the three moved cautiously toward the
wood, keeping the out-house between themselves and
the farm house. Almost in front of them as they neared
the wood they saw a well defined path leading into the
thicket. Single-file they entered, to be almost instantly
hidden from view, not only from the house but from
any other point more than a dozen paces away, for the
path was winding, narrow and closely walled by the
budding verdure of the new Spring. Birds sang or twit-
tered about them, the mat of dead leaves oozed spongily
beneath their feet, giving forth no sound as they passed,
save a faint sucking noise as a foot was lifted from each
watery seat.

Bridge was in the lead, moving steadily forward that
they might put as much distance as possible between
themselves and the detective should the latter chance to
explore the wood. They had advanced a few hundred
yards when the path crossed through a small clearing
the center of which was destitute of fallen leaves. Here
the path was beaten into soft mud and as Bridge came
to it he stopped and bent his gaze incredulously upon
the ground. The girl and the youth, halting upon either
side, followed the direction of his eyes with theirs. The
girl gave a little, involuntary gasp, and the boy grasped
Bridge's hand as though fearful of losing him. The man
turned a quizzical glance at each of them and smiled,
though a bit ruefully.

"It beats me," he said.

"What can it be?" whispered the boy.

"Oh, let's go back," begged the girl.

"And go along to father with Burton?" asked Bridge.

The girl trembled and shook her head. "I would rather
die," she said, firmly. "Come, let's go on."

The cause of their perturbation was imprinted deeply
in the mud of the pathway--the irregular outlines of an
enormous, naked, human foot--a great, uncouth foot that
bespoke a monster of another world. While, still more
uncanny, in view of what they had heard in the farm
house during the previous night, there lay, sometimes
partially obliterated by the footprints of the THING,
the impress of a small, bare foot--a woman's or a child's
--and over both an irregular scoring that might have
been wrought by a dragging chain!

In the loft of his father's hay barn Willie Case delved
deep into the small red-covered volume, HOW TO BE
A DETECTIVE; but though he turned many pages and
flitted to and fro from preface to conclusion he met only
with disappointment. The pictures of noted bank burg-
lars and confidence men aided him not one whit, for in
none of them could he descry the slightest resemblance
to the smooth faced youth of the early morning. In fact,
so totally different were the types shown in the little
book that Willie was forced to scratch his head and ex-
claim "Gosh!" many times in an effort to reconcile the
appearance of the innocent boy to the hardened, crimi-
nal faces he found portrayed upon the printed pages.

"But, by gol!" he exclaimed mentally, "he said he was
The Oskaloosie Kid, 'n' that he shot a man last night;
but what I'd like to know is how I'm goin' to shadder
him from this here book. Here it says: 'If the criminal
gets on a street car and then jumps off at the next
corner the good detective will know that his man is
aware that he is being shadowed, and will stay on the
car and telephone his office at the first opportunity.'
'N'ere it sez: 'If your man gets into a carriage don't
run up an' jump on the back of it; but simply hire an-
other carriage and follow.' How in hek kin I foller this
book?" wailed Willie. "They ain't no street cars 'round
here. I ain't never see a street car, 'n'as fer a carriage, I
reckon he means bus, they's only one on 'em in Oakdale
'n'if they waz forty I'd like to know how in hek I'd hire
one when I ain't got no money. I reckon I threw away
my four-bits on this book--it don't tell a feller nothin'
'bout false whiskers, wigs 'n' the like," and he tossed
the book disgustedly into a corner, rose and descended
to the barnyard. Here he busied himself about some
task that should have been attended to a week before,
and which even now was not destined to be completed
that day, since Willie had no more than set himself to it
than his attention was distracted by the sudden appear-
ance of a touring car being brought to a stop in front of
the gate.

Instantly Willie dropped his irksome labor and
slouched lazily toward the machine, the occupants of
which were descending and heading for the Case front
door. Jeb Case met them before they reached the porch
and Willie lolled against a pillar listening eagerly to all
that was said.

The most imposing figure among the strangers was
the same whom Bridge had seen approaching the
Squibbs' house a short time before. It was he who acted
as spokesman for the newcomers.

"As you may know," he said, after introducing him-
self, "a number of crimes were committed in and around
Oakdale last night. We are searching for clews to the
perpetrators, some of whom must still be in the neigh-
borhood. Have you seen any strange or suspicious char-
acters around lately?"

"I should say we hed," exclaimed Jeb emphatically.

"I seen the wo'st lookin' gang o' bums come outen my
hay barn this mornin' thet I ever seed in my life. They
must o' ben upward of a dozen on 'em. They waz makin'
fer the house when I steps in an' grabs my ol' shot
gun. I hollered at 'em not to come a step nigher 'n' I
guess they seed it wa'n't safe monkeyin' with me; so
they skidaddled."

"Which way did they go?" asked Burton.

"Off down the road yonder; but I don't know which
way they turned at the crossin's, er ef they kept straight
on toward Millsville."

Burton asked a number of questions in an effort to
fix the identity of some of the gang, warned Jeb to tele-
phone him at Jonas Prim's if he saw anything further of
the strangers, and then retraced his steps toward the
car. Not once bad Jeb mentioned the youth who had
purchased supplies from him that morning, and the
reason was that Jeb had not considered the young man
of sufficient importance, having cataloged him mentally
as an unusually early specimen of the summer camper
with which he was more or less familiar.

Willie, on the contrary, realized the importance of
their morning customer, yet just how he was to cash in
on his knowledge was not yet entirely clear. He was al-
ready convinced that HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE
would help him not at all, and with the natural suspicion
of ignorance he feared to divulge his knowledge to the
city detective for fear that the latter would find the
means to cheat him out of the princely reward offered
by the Oakdale village board. He thought of going at
once to the Squibbs' house and placing the desperate
criminals under arrest; but as fear throttled the idea in
its infancy he cast about for some other plan.

Even as he stood there thinking the great detective
and his companions were entering the automobile to
drive away. In a moment they would be gone. Were they
not, after all, the very men, the only men, in fact, to
assist him in his dilemma? At least he could test them
out. If necessary he would divide the reward with
them! Running toward the road Willie shouted to the
departing sleuth. The car, moving slowly forward in low,
came again to rest. Willie leaped to the running board.

"If I tell you where the murderer is," he whispered
hoarsely, "do I git the $50.00?"

Detective Burton was too old a hand to ignore even
the most seemingly impossible of aids. He laid a kindly
hand on Willie's shoulder. "You bet you do," he replied
heartily, "and what's more I'll add another fifty to it.
What do you know?"

"I seen the murderer this mornin'," Willie was gasp-
ing with excitement and elation. Already the one hun-
dred dollars was as good as his. One hundred dollars!
Willie "Goshed!" mentally even as he told his tale. "He
come to our house an' bought some vittles an' stuff. Paw
didn't know who he wuz; but when Paw went inside he
told me he was The Oskaloosie Kid 'n' thet he robbed a
house last night and killed a man, 'n' he had a whole
pocket full o' money, 'n' he said he'd kill me ef I told."

Detective Burton could scarce restrain a smile as he
listened to this wildly improbable tale, yet his profes-
sional instinct was too keen to permit him to cast aside
as worthless the faintest evidence until he had proven
it to be worthless. He stepped from the car again and
motioning to Willie to follow him returned to the Case
yard where Jeb was already coming toward the gate,
having noted the interest which his son was arousing
among the occupants of the car. Willie pulled at the
detective's sleeve. "Don't tell Paw about the reward,"
he begged; "he'll keep it all hisself."

Burton reassured the boy with a smile and a nod,
and then as he neared Jeb he asked him if a young
man had been at his place that morning asking for

"Sure," replied Jeb; "but he didn't 'mount to nothin'.
One o' these here summer camper pests. He paid fer all
he got. Had a roll o' bills 's big as ye fist. Little feller he
were, not much older 'n' Willie."

"Did you know that he told your son that he was The
Oskaloosa Kid and that he had robbed a house and
killed a man last night?"

"Huh?" exclaimed Jeb. Then he turned and cast one
awful look at Willie--a look large with menace.

"Honest, Paw," pleaded the boy. "I was a-scairt to
tell you, 'cause he said he'd kill me ef I told."

Jeb scratched his head. "Yew know what you'll get ef
you're lyin' to me," he threatened.

"I believe he's telling the truth," said detective Bur-
ton. "Where is the man now?" he asked Willie.

"Down to the Squibbs' place," and Willie jerked a
dirty thumb toward the east.

"Not now," said Burton; "we just came from there;
but there has been someone there this morning, for
there is still a fire in the kitchen range. Does anyone live

"I should say not," said Willie emphatically; "the
place is haunted."

"Thet's right," interjected Jeb. "Thet's what they do
say, an' this here Oskaloosie Kid said they heered things
las' night an' seed a dead man on the floor, didn't he
M'randy?" M'randy nodded her head.

"But I don't take no stock in what Willie's ben tellin'
ye," she continued, "'n' ef his paw don't lick him I
will. I told him tell I'm good an' tired o' talkin' thet one
liar 'round a place wuz all I could stand," and she cast a
meaning glance at her husband.

"Honest, Maw, I ain't a-lyin'," insisted Willie. "Wot
do you suppose he give me this fer, if it wasn't to keep
me from talkin'," and the boy drew a crumpled one dol-
lar bill from his pocket. It was worth the dollar to escape
a thrashing.

"He give you thet?" asked his mother. Willie nodded

"'N' thet ain't all he had neither," he said. "Beside
all them bills he showed me a whole pocket full o'
jewlry, 'n' he had a string o' things thet I don't know
jest what you call 'em; but they looked like they was
made outen the inside o' clam shells only they was all
round like marbles."

Detective Burton raised his eyebrows. "Miss Prim's
pearl necklace," he commented to the man at his side.
The other nodded. "Don't punish your son, Mrs. Case,"
he said to the woman. "I believe he has discovered a
great deal that will help us in locating the man we want.
Of course I am interested principally in finding Miss
Prim--her father has engaged me for that purpose; but
I think the arrest of the perpetrators of any of last
night's crimes will put us well along on the trail of the
missing young lady, as it is almost a foregone conclusion
that there is a connection between her disappearance
and some of the occurrences which have so excited
Oakdale. I do not mean that she was a party to any
criminal act; but it is more than possible that she was ab-
ducted by the same men who later committed the other

The Cases hung open-mouthed upon his words, while
his companions wondered at the loquaciousness of this
ordinarily close-mouthed man, who, as a matter of fact,
was but attempting to win the confidence of the boy
on the chance that even now he had not told all that
he knew; but Willie had told all.

Finding, after a few minutes further conversation,
that he could glean no additional information the de-
tective returned to his car and drove west toward Mills-
ville on the assumption that the fugitives would seek
escape by the railway running through that village.
Only thus could he account for their turning off the
main pike. The latter was now well guarded all the
way to Payson; while the Millsville road was still open.

No sooner had he departed than Willie Case disap-
peared, nor did he answer at noon to the repeated
ringing of the big, farm dinner bell.

Half way between the Case farm and Millsville de-
tective Burton saw, far ahead along the road, two figures
scale a fence and disappear behind the fringing black-
berry bushes which grew in tangled profusion on either
side. When they came abreast of the spot he ordered
the driver to stop; but though he scanned the open field
carefully he saw no sign of living thing.

"There are two men hiding behind those bushes," he
said to his companions in a low whisper. "One of you
walk ahead about fifty yards and the other go back the
same distance and then climb the fence. When I see you
getting over I'll climb it here. They can't get away from
us." To the driver he said: "You have a gun. If they
make a break go after 'em. You can shoot if they don't
stop when you tell 'em to."

The two men walked in opposite directions along the
road, and when Burton saw them turn in and start to
climb the fence he vaulted over the panel directly op-
posite the car. He had scarcely alighted upon the other
side when his eyes fell upon the disreputable figures of
two tramps stretched out upon their backs and snoring
audibly. Burton grinned.

"You two sure can go to sleep in a hurry," he said.
One of the men opened his eyes and sat up. When he
saw who it was that stood over him he grinned sheep-

"Can't a guy lie down fer a minute in de bushes wid-
out bein' pinched?" he asked. The other man now sat up
and viewed the newcomer, while from either side Bur-
ton's companions closed in on the three.

"Wot's de noise?" inquired the second tramp, looking
from one to another of the intruders. "We ain't done

"Of course not, Charlie," Burton assured him gaily.
"Who would ever suspect that you or The General
would do anything; but somebody did something in
Oakdale last night and I want to take you back there
and have a nice, long talk with you. Put your hands


"Put 'em up!" snapped Burton, and when the four
grimy fists had been elevated he signalled to his com-
panions to search the two men.

Nothing more formidable than knives, dope, and a
needle were found upon them.

"Say," drawled Dopey Charlie. "We knows wot we
knows; but hones' to gawd we didn't have nothin' to do
wid it. We knows the guy that pulled it off--we spent
las' night wid him an' his pal an' a skoit. He creased
me, here," and Charlie unbuttoned his clothing and ex-
posed to view the bloody scratch of The Oskaloosa
Kid's bullet. "On de level, Burton, we wern't in on it.
Dis guy was at dat Squibbs' place wen we pulls in dere
outen de rain. He has a pocket full o' kale an' sparklers
an' tings, and he goes fer to shoot me up wen I tries
to get away."

"Who was he?" asked Burton.

"He called hisself de Oskaloosa Kid," replied Charlie.
"A guy called Bridge was wid him. You know him?"

"I've heard of him; but he's straight," replied Burton.
"Who was the skirt?"

"I dunno," said Charlie; "but she was gassin' 'bout her
pals croakin' a guy an' trunin' 'im outten a gas wagon,
an' dis Oskaloosa Kid he croaks some old guy in Oak-
dale las' night. Mebby he ain't a bad 'un though!"

"Where are they now?" asked Burton.

"We got away from 'em at the Squibbs' place this
mornin'," said Charlie.

"Well," said Burton, "you boes come along with me.
If you ain't done nothing the worst you'll get'll be
three squares and a place to sleep for a few days. I
want you where I can lay my hands on you when I
need a couple of witnesses," and he herded them over
the fence and into the machine. As he himself was about
to step in he felt suddenly of his breast pocket.

"What's the matter?" asked one of his companions.

"I've lost my note book," replied Burton; "it must
have dropped out of my pocket when I jumped the
fence. Just wait a minute while I go look for it," and
be returned to the fence, vaulted it and disappeared be-
hind the bushes.

It was fully five minutes before he returned but when
he did there was a look of satisfaction on his face.

"Find it?" asked his principal lieutenant.

"Yep," replied Burton. "I wouldn't have lost it for

Bridge and his companions had made their way along
the wooded path for perhaps a quarter of a mile when
the man halted and drew back behind the foliage of a
flowering bush. With raised finger he motioned the oth-
ers to silence and then pointed through the branches
ahead. The boy and the girl, tense with excitement,
peered past the man into a clearing in which stood a log
shack, mud plastered; but it was not the hovel which
held their mute attention--it was rather the figure of a
girl, bare headed and bare footed, who toiled stub-
bornly with an old spade at a long, narrow excavation.

All too suggestive in itself was the shape of the hole
the girl was digging; there was no need of the silent
proof of its purpose which lay beside her to tell the
watchers that she worked alone in the midst of the for-
est solitude upon a human grave. The thing wrapped
in an old quilt lay silently waiting for the making of its
last bed.

And as the three watched her other eyes watched
them and the digging girl--wide, awestruck eyes, filled
with a great terror, yet now and again half closing in
the shrewd expression of cunning that is a hall mark of
crafty ignorance.

And as they watched, their over-wrought nerves sud-
denly shuddered to the grewsome clanking of a chain
from the dark interior of the hovel.

The youth, holding tight to Bridge's sleeve, strove to
pull him away.

"Let's go back," he whispered in a voice that trembled
so that he could scarce control it.

"Yes, please," urged the girl. "Here is another path
leading toward the north. We must be close to a road.
Let's get away from here."

The digger paused and raised her head, listening, as
though she had caught the faint, whispered note of hu-
man voices. She was a black haired girl of nineteen or
twenty, dressed in a motley of flowered calico and silk,
with strings of gold and silver coins looped around her
olive neck. Her bare arms were encircled by bracelets--
some cheap and gaudy, others well wrought from gold
and silver. From her ears depended ornaments fash-
ioned from gold coins. Her whole appearance was bar-
baric, her occupation cast a sinister haze about her; and
yet her eyes seemed fashioned for laughter and her lips
for kissing.

The watchers remained motionless as the girl peered
first in one direction and then in another, seeking an ex-
planation of the sounds which had disturbed her. Her
brows were contracted into a scowl of apprehension
which remained even after she returned to her labors,
and that she was ill at ease was further evidenced by
the frequent pauses she made to cast quick glances to-
ward the dense tanglewood surrounding the clearing.

At last the grave was dug. The girl climbed out and
stood looking down upon the quilt wrapped thing at
her feet. For a moment she stood there as silent and
motionless as the dead. Only the twittering of birds dis-
turbed the quiet of the wood. Bridge felt a soft hand
slipped into his and slender fingers grip his own, He
turned his eyes to see the boy at his side gazing with
wide eyes and trembling lips at the tableau within the
clearing. Involuntarily the man's hand closed tightly
upon the youth's.

And as they stood thus the silence was shattered by
a loud and human sneeze from the thicket not fifty feet
from where they stood. Instantly the girl in the clearing
was electrified into action. Like a tigress charging those
who stalked her she leaped swiftly across the clearing
toward the point from which the disturbance had come.
There was an answering commotion in the underbrush
as the girl crashed through, a slender knife gleaming in
her hand.

Bridge and his companions heard the sounds of a
swift and short pursuit followed by voices, one master-
ful, the other frightened and whimpering; and a moment
afterward the girl reappeared dragging a boy with her
--a wide-eyed, terrified, country boy who begged and
blubbered to no avail.

Beside the dead man the girl halted and then turned
on her captive. In her right hand she still held the
menacing blade.

"What you do there watching me for?" she demanded.
"Tell me the truth, or I kill you," and she half raised
the knife that he might profit in his decision by this
most potent of arguments.

The boy cowered. "I didn't come fer to watch you,"
he whimpered. "I'm lookin' for somebody else. I'm goin'
to be a dee-tectiff, an' I'm shadderin' a murderer; and
he gasped and stammered: "But not you. I'm lookin' for
another murderer."

For the first time the watchers saw a faint smile
touch the girl's lips.

"What other murderer?" she asked. "Who has been

"Two an' mebby three in Oakdale last night," said
Willie Case more glibly now that a chance for dissemi-
nating gossip momentarily outweighed his own fears.
"Reginald Paynter was murdered an' ol' man Baggs an'
Abigail Prim's missin'. Like es not she's been murdered
too, though they do say as she had a hand in it, bein'
seen with Paynter an' The Oskaloosie Kid jest afore the

As the boy's tale reached the ears of the three hidden
in the underbrush Bridge glanced quickly at his com-
panions. He saw the boy's horror-stricken expression fol-
low the announcement of the name of the murdered
Paynter, and he saw the girl flush crimson.

Without urging, Willie Case proceeded with his story.
He told of the coming of The Oskaloosa Kid to his
father's farm that morning and of seeing some of the
loot and hearing the confession of robbery and killing
in Oakdale the night before. Bridge looked down at the
youth beside him; but the other's face was averted and
his eyes upon the ground. Then Willie told of the arrival
of the great detective, of the reward that had been of-
fered and of his decision to win it and become rich
and famous in a single stroke. As he reached the end
of his narrative he leaned close to the girl, whispering
in her ear the while his furtive gaze wandered toward
the spot where the three lay concealed.

Bridge shrugged his shoulders as the palpable infer-
ence of that cunning glance was borne in upon him.
The boy's voice had risen despite his efforts to hold it to
a low whisper for what with the excitement of the ad-
venture and his terror of the girl with the knife he had
little or no control of himself, yet it was evident that he
did not realize that practically every word he had
spoken had reached the ears of the three in hiding and
that his final precaution as he divulged the information
to the girl was prompted by an excess of timidity and

The eyes of the girl widened in surprise and fear
as she learned that three watchers lay concealed at
the verge of the clearing. She bent a long, searching
look in the direction indicated by the boy and then
turned her eyes quickly toward the hut as though to
summon aid. At the same moment Bridge stepped from
hiding into the clearing. His pleasant 'Good morning!'
brought the girl around, facing him.

"What you want?" she snapped.

"I want you and this young man," said Bridge, his
voice now suddenly stern. "We have been watching you
and followed you from the Squibbs house. We found the
dead man there last night;" Bridge nodded toward the
quilt enveloped thing upon the ground; "and we sus-
pect that you had an accomplice." Here he frowned
meaningly upon Willie Case. The youth trembled and

"I never seen her afore," he cried. "I don' know
nothin' about it. Honest I don't." But the girl did not

"You get out," she commanded. "You a bad man. Kill,
steal. He know; he tell me. You get out or I call Beppo.
He keel you. He eat you."

"Come, come, now, my dear," urged Bridge, "be calm.
Let us get at the root of this thing. Your young friend
accuses me of being a murderer, does he? And he tells
about murders in Oakdale that I have not even heard
of. It seems to me that he must have some guilty knowl-
edge himself of these affairs. Look at him and look at
me. Notice his ears, his chin, his forehead, or rather the
places where his chin and forehead should be, and then
look once more at me. Which of us might be a murderer
and which a detective? I ask you.

"And as for yourself. I find you here in the depths of
the wood digging a lonely grave for a human corpse.
I ask myself: was this man murdered? but I do not say
that he was murdered. I wait for an explanation from
you, for you do not look a murderer, though I cannot
say as much for your desperate companion."

The girl looked straight into Bridge's eyes for a full
minute before she replied as though endeavoring to
read his inmost soul.

"I do not know this boy," she said. "That is the truth.
He was spying on me, and when I found him he told
me that you and your companions were thieves and
murderers and that you were hiding there watching me.
You tell me the truth, all the truth, and I will tell you
the truth. I have nothing to fear. If you do not tell me
the truth I shall know it. Will you?"

"I will," replied Bridge, and then turning toward the
brush he called: "Come here!" and presently a boy and a
girl, dishevelled and fearful, crawled forth into sight.
Willie Case's eyes went wide as they fell upon the
Oskaloosa Kid.

Quickly and simply Bridge told the girl the story of
the past night, for he saw that by enlisting her sym-
pathy he might find an avenue of escape for his com-
panions, or at least a haven of refuge where they might
hide until escape was possible. "And then," he said in
conclusion, "when the searchers arrived we followed
the foot prints of yourself and the bear until we came
upon you digging this grave."

Bridge's companions and Willie Case looked their sur-
prise at his mention of a bear; but the gypsy girl only
nodded her head as she had occasionally during his nar-

"I believe you," said the girl. "It is not easy to de-
ceive Giova. Now I tell you. This here," she pointed
toward the dead man, "he my father. He bad man.
Steal; kill; drink; fight; but always good to Giova. Good
to no one else but Beppo. He afraid Beppo. Even our
people drive us out he, my father, so bad man. We wan-
der 'round country mak leetle money when Beppo
dance; mak lot money when HE steal. Two days he no
come home. I go las' night look for him. Sometimes he
too drunk come home he sleep Squeebs. I go there. I
find heem dead. He have fits, six, seven year. He die fit.
Beppo stay guard heem. I carry heem home. Giova
strong, he no very large man. Beppo come too. I bury
heem. No one know we leeve here. Pretty soon I go
way with Beppo. Why tell people he dead. Who care?
Mak lot trouble for Giova whose heart already ache
plenty. No one love heem, only Beppo and Giova. No
one love Giova, only Beppo; but some day Beppo he
keel Giova now HE is dead, for Beppo vera large, strong
bear--fierce bear--ogly bear. Even Giova who love Bep-
po is afraid Beppo. Beppo devil bear! Beppo got evil

"Well," said Bridge, "I guess, Giova, that you and we
are in the same boat. We haven't any of us done any-
thing so very bad but it would be embarrassing to
have to explain to the police what we have done," here
he glanced at The Oskaloosa Kid and the girl standing
beside the youth. "Suppose we form a defensive alli-
ance, eh? We'll help you and you help us. What do you

"All right," acquiesced Giova; "but what we do with
this?" and she jerked her thumb toward Willie Case.

"If he don't behave we'll feed him to Beppo," sug-
gested Bridge.

Willie shook in his boots, figuratively speaking, for in
reality he shook upon his bare feet. "Lemme go," he
wailed, "an' I won't tell nobody nothin'."

"No," said Bridge, "you don't go until we're safely
out of here. I wouldn't trust that vanishing chin of
yours as far as I could throw Beppo by the tail."

"Wait!" exclaimed The Oskaloosa Kid. "I have it!"

"What have you?" asked Bridge.

"Listen!" cried the boy excitedly. "This boy has been
offered a hundred dollars for information leading to the
arrest and conviction of the men who robbed and mur-
dered in Oakdale last night. I'll give him a hundred
dollars if he'll go away and say nothing about us."

"Look here, son," said Bridge, "every time you open
your mouth you put your foot in it. The less you adver-
tise the fact that you have a hundred dollars the better
off you'll be. I don't know how you come by so much
wealth; but in view of several things which occurred
last night I should not be crazy, were I you, to have to
make a true income tax return. Somehow I have faith in
you; but I doubt if any minion of the law would be
similarly impressed."

The Oskaloosa Kid appeared hurt and crestfallen.
Giova shot a suspicious glance at him. The other girl in-
voluntarily drew away. Bridge noted the act and shook
his head. "No," he said, "we mustn't judge one another
hastily, Miss Prim, and I take it you are Miss Prim?"
The girl made a half gesture of denial, started to speak,
hesitated and then resumed. "I would rather not say
who I am, please," she said.

"Well," said the man, "let's take one another at face
value for a while, without digging too deep into the
past; and now for our plans. This wood will be searched;
but I don't see how we are to get out of it before dark as
the roads are doubtless pretty well patrolled, or at least
every farmer is on the lookout for suspicious strangers.
So we might as well make the best of it here for the
rest of the day. I think we're reasonably safe for the
time being--if we keep Willie with us."

Willie had been an interested auditor of all that
passed between his captors. He was obviously terrified;
but his terror did not prevent him from absorbing all
that he heard, nor from planning how he might utilize
the information. He saw not only one reward but sev-
eral and a glorious publicity which far transcended the
most sanguine of his former dreams. He saw his picture
not only in the Oakdale Tribune but in the newspapers
of every city of the country. Assuming a stern and arro-
gant expression, or rather what he thought to be such,
he posed, mentally, for the newspaper cameramen; and
such is the power of association of ideas that he was
presently strolling nonchalantly before a battery of mo-
tion picture machines. "Gee!" he murmured, "wont the
other fellers be sore! I s'ppose Pinkerton'll send for me
'bout the first thing 'n' offer me twenty fi' dollars a week,
er mebbie more 'n thet. Gol durn, ef I don't hold out
fer thirty! Gee!" Words, thoughts even, failed him.

As the others planned they rather neglected Willie
and when they came to assisting Giova in lowering her
father into the grave and covering him over with earth
they quite forgot Willie entirely. It was The Oskaloosa
Kid who first thought of him. "Where's the boy?" he
cried suddenly. The others looked quickly about the
clearing, but no Willie was to be seen.

Bridge shook his head ruefully. "We'll have to get out
of this in a hurry now," he said. "That little defective will
have the whole neighborhood on us in an hour."

"Oh, what can we do?" cried the girl. "They mustn't
find us! I should rather die than be found here with--"
She stopped abruptly, flushed scarlet as the other three
looked at her in silence, and then: "I am sorry," she said.
"I didn't know what I was saying. I am so frightened.
You have all been good to me."

"I tell you what we do." It was Giova speaking in the
masterful voice of one who has perfect confidence in his
own powers. "I know fine way out. This wood circle
back south through swamp mile, mile an' a half. The
road past Squeebs an' Case's go right through it. I know
path there I fin' myself. We on'y have to cross road, that
only danger. Then we reach leetle stream south of
woods, stream wind down through Payson. We all go
Gypsies. I got lot clothing in house. We all go Gypsies,
an' when we reach Payson we no try hide--jus' come
out on street with Beppo. Mak' Beppo dance. No one
think we try hide. Then come night we go 'way. Find
more wood an' leetle lake other side Payson. I know
place. We hide there long time. No one ever fin' us
there. We tell two, three, four people in Payson we go
Oakdale. They look Oakdale for us if they wan' fin' us.
They no think look where we go. See?"

"Oh, I can't go to Payson," exclaimed the other girl.
"Someone would be sure to recognize me."

"You come in house with me," Giova assured her, "I
feex you so your own mother no know you. You mens
come too. I geeve you what to wear like Gypsy mens.
We got lots things. My father, him he steal many things
from our people after they drive us out. He go back
by nights an' steal."

The three followed her toward the little hovel since
there seemed no better plan than that which she had
offered. Giova and the other girl were in the lead, fol-
lowed by Bridge and the boy. The latter turned to the
man and placed a hand upon his arm. "Why don't you
leave us," he asked. "You have done nothing. No one is
looking for you. Why don't you go your way and save
yourself from suspicion."

Bridge did not reply.

"I believe," the youth went on, "that you are doing
it for me; but why I can't guess."

"Maybe I am," Bridge half acknowledged. "You're a
good little kid, but you need someone to look after you.
It would be easier though if you'd tell me the truth
about yourself, which you certainly haven't up to now."

"Please don't ask me," begged the boy. "I can't; hon-
estly I can't."

"Is it as bad as that?" asked the man.

"Oh, its worse," cried The Oskaloosa Kid. "It's a thou-
sand times worse. Don't make me tell you, for if I do
tell I shall have to leave you, and--and, oh, Bridge, I
don't want to leave you--ever!"

They had reached the door of the cabin now and
were looking in past the girl who had halted there as
Giova entered. Before them was a small room in which
a large, vicious looking brown bear was chained.

"Behold our ghost of last night!" exclaimed Bridge.
"By George! though, I'd as soon have hunted a real
ghost in the dark as to have run into this fellow."

"Did you know last night that it was a bear?" asked
the Kid. "You told Giova that you followed the foot-
prints of herself and her bear; but you had not said any-
thing about a bear to us."

"I had an idea last night," explained Bridge, "that
the sounds were produced by some animal dragging a
chain; but I couldn't prove it and so I said nothing, and
then this morning while we were following the trail I
made up my mind that it was a bear. There were two
facts which argued that such was the case. The first is
that I don't believe in ghosts and that even if I did I
would not expect a ghost to leave footprints in the mud,
and the other is that I knew that the footprints of a bear
are strangely similar to those of the naked feet of man.
Then when I saw the Gypsy girl I was sure that what
we had heard last night was nothing more nor less than
a trained bear. The dress and appearance of the dead
man lent themselves to a furtherance of my belief and
the wisp of brown hair clutched in his fingers added still
further proof."

Within the room the bear was now straining at his
collar and growling ferociously at the strangers. Giova
crossed the room, scolding him and at the same time
attempting to assure him that the newcomers were
friends; but the wicked expression upon the beast's face
gave no indication that he would ever accept them as
aught but enemies.

It was a breathless Willie who broke into his mother's
kitchen wide eyed and gasping from the effects of ex-
citement and a long, hard run.

"Fer lan' sakes!" exclaimed Mrs. Case. "Whatever in
the world ails you?"

"I got 'em; I got 'em!" cried Willie, dashing for the

"Fer lan' sakes! I should think you did hev 'em," re-
torted his mother as she trailed after him in the direc-
tion of the front hall. "'N' whatever you got, you got 'em
bad. Now you stop right where you air 'n' tell me what-
ever you got. 'Taint likely its measles, fer you've hed
them three times, 'n' whoopin' cough ain't 'them,' it's 'it,'
'n'--." Mrs. Case paused and gasped--horrified. "Fer lan'
sakes, Willie Case, you come right out o' this house this
minute ef you got anything in your head." She made a
grab for Willie's arm; but the boy dodged and reached
the telephone.

"Shucks!" he cried. "I ain't got nothin' in my head,"
nor did either sense the unconscious humor of the state-
ment. "What I got is a gang o' thieves an' murderers, an'
I'm callin' up thet big city deetectiff to come arter 'em."

Mrs. Case sank into a chair, prostrated by the weight
of her emotions, while Willie took down the receiver af-
ter ringing the bell to attract central. Finally he ob-
tained his connection, which was with Jonas Prim's bank
where detective Burton was making his headquarters.
Here he learned that Burton had not returned; but fi-
nally gave his message reluctantly to Jonas Prim after
exacting a promise from that gentleman that he would
be personally responsible for the payment of the reward.
What Willie Case told Jonas Prim had the latter in a
machine, with half a dozen deputy sheriffs and speed-
ing southward from Oakdale inside of ten minutes.

A short distance out from town they met detective
Burton with his two prisoners. After a hurried consulta-
tion Dopey Charlie and The General were unloaded
and started on the remainder of their journey afoot un-
der guard of two of the deputies, while Burton's com-
panions turned and followed the other car, Burton tak-
ing a seat beside Prim.

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